The Return of the Conch

by Toni Keesee

Tomorrow is the official opening of Conch Season, so we’ve asked some friends to tell us about their favorite conch dishes and reminisce on the importance of the conch in Cayman culture.

Lisa, our Property Manager, likes to cook conch soup with her daughter, Delisa. Georgette, our office assistant, enjoys conch stew (or stew conch as many refer to it), and she also loves a good batch of conch chowder. Our friend Walter Fajette, owner of Catch & Agua, says that he “likes conch in all ways” but his favorite is cracked conch (which I just thought was a cool name for a restaurant and didn’t realize it was actually a way of frying conch—so neat!). Walter’s restaurants will begin serving fresh conch dishes tomorrow when the season opens. Other popular dishes include conch burgers and fritters. If you really get the conch fever, try cooking your own dish using this conch stew recipe in your condo kitchen next time you stay with us!

Another popular dish enjoyed by locals and lucky tourists alike is marinated conch. Many boat captains will dive for conch during a boat tour and then treat their guests to freshly prepared conch ceviche. Some friends and I had the pleasure of taste testing this unique ceviche with Captain Allan Ebanks a couple of years ago. Captain Allan and his cousin Merle dove for conch at Starfish Point and Stingray City and then prepared us the best ceviche we had ever had. Seeing them dive in the shallow Caribbean waters to search for conch (with no need for goggles to protect their eyes) was an experience in itself.

Aside from the culinary value of conch meat, conch shells themselves have long been a source of income for locals. Although the conch shell business isn’t as lucrative as it once was, many still make an income selling these beautiful shells at roadside stands and stalls. Stand owners harvest, clean and polish the shells and then tourists purchase them for souvenirs. One of our guests struck up a friendship with Shane the Conch Man on a past trip, and he explained the cultural significance of the conch to Cayman life, including the use of the shell as a horn to communicate with ships.

The season for conch runs from November 1st to April 30th, which is also the season for Whelks (various types of sea snails). The limited season was implemented to protect the depleting levels of conch due to it’s popularity, so we ask that you respect the limits and rules set in place by the Department of Environment so we can all continue to enjoy conch and it’s place in Cayman culture for years to come!